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The Main Branches of Geology

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  • 0:05 What Is Geology?
  • 1:23 Branches of Geology
  • 3:45 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Margaret Cunningham

Margaret has taught many Biology and Environmental Science courses and has Master's degrees in Environmental Science and Education.

Although many people think the field of geology focuses solely on rocks, there is much more behind this scientific field. Geology has many different branches that each focus on interesting and unique features of our planet and beyond.

What Is Geology?

Next time you use a pencil, look at each part of it. Pencils are comprised of many components, including rubber, metal, wood and graphite. Although all of us use pencils, we don't normally think of how they are made or where the materials come from. All of the components of a pencil originate from raw materials found in the earth and rely on energy sources in the earth to be manufactured. Besides pencils, many other objects you use daily, including your clothing, car and computer, all rely on the earth's resources to be created.

So, now we know that many objects we use on a daily basis, including pencils, rely on Earth's resources. You might now be wondering what this has to do with geology. Geology is the study of the solid Earth, including the materials that make up the planet and the processes that shape the planet. Without this field of science, we would not know enough about our own planet to be able to produce the products we have discussed. Through the study of geology, scientists have learned what our Earth is made of, how it changes and how we can use it to produce things we need for survival.

Branches of Geology

Main Subdivisions

Geology is a very broad field that can be divided into many more specific branches. Traditionally, geology has been divided into two main subdivisions: physical geology and historical geology.

Physical geology is the study of the solid Earth and the processes that change the physical landscape of the planet. Historical geology is the study of analyzing Earth's past by investigating rocks and the information found in them. Physical geology focuses more on the present day planet, while historical geology investigates the planet's past.

Over the past three decades, a new main subdivision has been added to the field of geology. This branch of geology is known as environmental geology, which is the study of the interaction between humans and the geological environment. The main goal of this branch of geology is to solve problems that have arisen due to this interaction. As the human population continues to increase, there will be shortages of natural resources, such as water, food and energy. People will also be forced to live in areas that are prone to floods, earthquakes and landslides.

These issues caused by the growth of the human population put many people at risk. Using the branch of environmental geology, scientists will attempt to learn more about how humans interact with their environment and what can be done to solve these issues.

Specific Branches

Besides the current three main subdivisions of geology, there are many other more specific and unique branches of geology. Planetary geology is the study of the solid matter that makes up celestial bodies, such as planets, moons, asteroids, comets and meteorites. This branch of geology focuses on the materials that make up these celestial bodies, how the bodies are formed and also how they interact with each other.

Another interesting and specific branch of geology is economic geology, which is the study of the location and extraction of geological materials that are used by humans as economic resources. Economic geology is involved in the extraction of metal ores, fossil fuels and other natural materials in the earth that have a commercial value.

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